Oskar Merikanto’s Merellä  – Practising the Piano

In our guest post this week, Fred Karpoff performs and explores an interesting repertoire find, Oskar Merikanto’s Merellä, which is featured in a detailed video lesson now available on the Online Academy.


I was delighted to come across Finnish composer Oskar Merikanto’s virtuosic yet highly pianistic transcription of his beautiful song, Merellä. The piece retains the high Scandinavian drama of the song’s lyrics and in just four minutes takes the performer and listeners on an epic journey filled with vivid imagery of the sea. 

Right from the outset, Merikanto depicts the seascape with tremolos under a sighing motive, accompanied by thick rolled chords in the bass:

Merellä piano transcription opening bars

Merikanto exploits the darkness of the bass by directing the player to liberally use the sustain pedal and by punctuating the second beats with chords in the piano’s lowest register. Harmonies intensify and the pattern of one harmony for two beats versus a contrasting harmony on beat three continues until two measures before the “voice” enters, introduced by a hemiola:

Oskar Merikanto's Merellä bars 4 - 8

Just as in Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert songs, Merikanto includes the lyrics of the original song and marks melody notes with accents, tenuti, or marcato accents to provide additional direction for the performer. This invites the pianist to identify with the protagonist, appreciating what he sees and feels:
Merella: At Sea

Deeply the sea sighs
Its breast boils
But the calm sky
Light pours
I am the sea,
Restless, wavy
You are my heaven
Bright, calm
Your picture, my sweet one,
I hold now against my chest
And I hide you
Deep in my soul
Oh, the storm can break the ship
And maybe I’ll sink
But you in my soul
I’ll take to the bottom of the wave

Poet: J.H.Erkko, Translation: Matti Koli
The form of the song is AAB. In the first A section, the composer doubles the vocal line between alto and tenor, sometimes distributing the voices between the hands and other times by using right-hand octaves: 

Oskar Merikanto's Merellä octaves

In the second verse, Merikanto sets the line, “You are my heaven…” by moving the voice part up to the soprano register, in octaves:

The conclusion of the second verse takes us to F-Sharp major, an example of modal mixture akin to Schubert. Merikanto skillfully uses the introductory material to sustain the mood and to set up the shocking change of character at Allegro, the climactic ‘B’ section:

The turbulence of both the sea and the poet’s emotions is palpable as the composer uses a variety of pianistic tricks to conjure orchestral forces:

I’m excited to have found this piece – if I’d known about it when playing competitions or in graduate schools, I would have rushed to play it! Although advanced, it does sound harder than it is and with the right approach to several technical challenges, is also approachable for late intermediate players. I do hope you enjoy listening to and learning this stunning work as much as I have!

– Fred Karpoff

Further Links

  • Full Video Lesson – Click here to view Fred’s detailed video lesson guiding you though learning this work, covering various technical elements such as tremolos, octaves, cantabile voicing, large rolled chords and more!
  • Lesson Excerpt – Click here to view an excerpt from Fred’s video lesson demonstrating how to use a vibrato technique to avoid fatigue when tackling the challenging tremolos found throughout the piece.
  • Fred Karpoff’s Marked Score – Click here to view Fred’s handwritten copy of the score, including harmonic analysis, fingering, pedaling, and technical and interpretive guidance.
  • Open Domain Score – Click here to view open domain editions.
  • Entrada Piano – For more like this video, check out Fred’s website where you will find hundreds of training videos and his masterclass series.